Parenting

I tried tie dying with my kids—here's how it went

The summer's hottest trend for the younger set.

Two kids wearing tie-dye t-shirts Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

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With traditional summer camps closed due to COVID-19, my kids have been getting a full season of "Camp Mom." This primarily entails them running around our backyard for hours on end, but when they eventually cry boredom I'm forced to come up with creative ways to keep them entertained. From my own sleepaway camp days I remembered that I always loved the tie-dye projects, so I thought it would be fun to recreate that experience with my own kids. After all, how hard could it possibly be?

Getting started

Soda ash
Credit: Reviewed / Anna Lane

Waiting for the shirts to be ready to dye was the hardest part.

I admit that part of the reason a tie-dying project came to mind is that someone gave my daughter a tie-dye kit for her birthday, so we already had most of what we needed on hand. Also, tie-dye is pretty much the hottest DIY trend of the summer, so naturally we had to try it out.

The kit we started with, the B.Me Super Tie Dye Creations, included everything we needed—other than white T-shirts. It came with two pairs of plastic gloves, a package of soda ash, plenty of rubber bands, three small squeeze bottles, and three packets of powdered dye. I ordered each of my kids white cotton T-shirts on Amazon—one with ruffles for my daughter, and a plain one for my son—and, once they arrived, we got to tie-dying.

I admit that it's been about 20 years since I last tie-dyed a T-shirt, so I carefully read the instructions and followed all the steps to the letter. First we had to soak the T-shirts in a mixture of soda ash and water for 20 minutes. This helps ensure that the dye stays on and prevents the colors from bleeding. The directions said to add three teaspoons of soda ash to four quarts of water, which left me with a lot of soda ash still in the packet. It seemed strange that they included so much soda ash when we only needed a few teaspoons, but I figured the company must've had high hopes for us doing more than one round of tie-dying.

While the shirts were soaking, I carefully put the dye into the squeeze bottles and added warm water so the powder would dissolve. My kids requested "very bright" colors, so I only filled the squeeze bottles up about halfway, since the less water you use the more vibrant the hues.

How it works

Tie-dye
Credit: Reviewed / Anna Lane

Kids will love designing their own groovy creations.

After the required soaking time, we wrung out the shirts and got ready to tie-dye. There's a reason that tie-dye kits include gloves—the dyes stain like crazy, so I would suggest only doing this project outside, especially if you have younger kids.

We set up a big tarp on the driveway, and I made sure that the kids wore smocks and old clothes so that we didn't ruin any good-quality outfits in service to our craft project. The two pairs of gloves that were included in our kit tore before the kids even started tie-dying, but we had extra pairs on hand (thanks, COVID-19) so we just used those instead. I will say, however, that even with all of our gloves and smocks, everyone still ended up with some dye on their skin.

The instructions included a few design suggestions, but my kids wanted to create their own, so I just helped put rubber bands where they wanted them. The dying itself didn't take very long—probably about 15 minutes—but I suspect that older kids would spend far more time creating intricate designs. My 6- and 7-year-olds were primarily interested in just squeezing the colors any which way, so there was more of a focus on mixing colors rather than crafting a pattern.

Once they were done dying their shirts, the instructions said to wrap them in plastic wrap overnight to get the colors to set. My daughter wanted hers to be pastel, rather than bright rainbow, so we rinsed her dye out after just a few minutes, and were left with a beautiful, soft pinky-purple design. I wrapped Noah's shirt up tightly, and left the big reveal for the following morning.

The results

The first initial round of finished product looked great. The designs and colors were beautiful, and the kids were happy with how their shirts turned out. I was excited for them to wear them as soon as I ran them through the washer, as the directions instructed. I tossed them in the machine, distracted my kids with some iPad activity, and waited for the shirts to be finished. When the machine buzzed, the kids ran to the washer, opened the lid, and pulled out two COMPLETELY WHITE SHIRTS.

The dye had washed entirely out of both shirts and they were as white as the day they arrived from Amazon. Not a trace of dye remained, and my children were absolutely distraught. Needless to say, this is not how I'd planned for this project to end. Faced with two sobbing children who wanted nothing more than to wear their own tie-dye shirts, I headed out to my local craft store in search of a new tie-dye kit.

Tie-dye, take two

Tie dye 2
Credit: Reviewed / Anna Lane

A second chance, a different design.

The tie-dye aisle at my local Joann store was practically emptied of merchandise—further proof that everyone is into this easy DIY trend—but I did manage to score a tie-dye kit that seemed legit. I paid for my Jacquard Tie Dye Kit and hightailed it home for a second round of tie-dying adventures.

Just as with the first kit, the Jacquard Tie Dye Kit included everything we needed for a great tie-dying experience, the difference being that it came with much bigger bottles of dye so that my kids could each make more than just one shirt. Another difference? The directions instructed you to use the entire package of soda ash, far more than we were told to use with the first kit. Clearly, the source of our tie-dye failure was bad directions, and not my inability to craft.

The steps this time were exactly the same—soak, rinse, rubber band, dye, and then wash—but our project was far more successful the second time around. The colors have stayed vibrant through multiple wash cycles, and the kids always want to wear their homemade shirts. In fact, they loved this project so much that I ended up ordering more shirts so that they could each make a second one.

Should you tie-dye with your kids?

Finished shirts
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

The tie-dye shirts they made are their favorite items of clothing.

Absolutely! Yes, it can be kind of messy, but if you plan ahead and have a work area set up and plenty of latex gloves, it's a fun project that children of a wide variety of ages will enjoy. Plus, it's a relatively inexpensive craft project, especially if you buy multi-packs of plain white T-shirts. My kids proudly wear their tie-dye creations as often as possible, and I feel like I got major mom points for spearheading such a fun project.

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